How to Be Inappropriate Paperback – Oct 1 2009
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"If there was Nobel Prize for Achievement in Inappropriateness, Daniel Nester would be Laureate of the Universe. Until then, he'll have settle for having written this shockingly innovative stunner of a book. Nester brings his irreverent, elegiac sensibility to subjects from ranging from the essence of literary truth to the enduring mystery of flatulence, managing in the bargain to highlight the bleak hilarity of human existence--which, when you think about it, is the most inappropriate thing of all." --Rachel Shukert, author of Have You No Shame? "Daniel Nester is funny as hell." --Stephen Elliott "Daniel Nester is a stone-cold genius. Clever, lyrical, inappropriate in all the right ways--I'd rather read him than just about anyone right now." --Darin Strauss, author of More Than It Hurts You "Daniel Nester's essays are haunted by a Victorian perversity. His writing exhibits a kind of Tourette syndrome in which the author continuously abases himself and revels in his own shortcomings. It's a painful kind of comedy leavened by gentle good humor and wonder." --Thomas Beller, author of The Sleep-Over Artist and How To Be a Man "Former McSweeney's editor Nester (English, Coll. of Saint Rose), whose writing has appeared in The Best Creative Nonfiction, The Best American Poetry, and Poets & Writers, presents his debut collection of humorous nonfiction, amassing 41 years' worth of experience in nonconformity. His stories are, as the title suggests, inappropriate, and they often engender squeamishness, discomfort, and laughter. But they are fresh and, at times, touching, qualities that make this an enjoyable read. Subjects include teaching curse words to Chinese ESL students, reimagining a Terry Gross NPR interview of Gene Simmons by substituting Gene Simmons with an AI computer, a collection of references to flatulence in English poesy, the history of mooning, and out-of-context comments he made as a college professor in order to clarify and expand upon his students' writing. Nester includes photographs, illustrations, and a time line of his inappropriate acts from birth to the present. VERDICT Recommended for readers who enjoy memoirs and essays." --Library Journal
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And I mention this all to say this: Daniel Nester's "How To Be Inappropriate" is the Brian Jonestown Massacre of autobiographical / non-fiction essay books.
"How to Be Inappropriate" is fresh, and manic, and exhilaratingly weird. Nester fearlessly allows all the strange incarnations of his id to run rampant, from his misguidedly perverse MFA lit major side ("Pulling the Muse's Finger: A Fartspotter's Guide to Poetic Passing of Wind"), to his mulleted Jersey yahoo side ("Mooning: A Short Cultural History" ), to the surprising vanity of his upstate professor side ("Yes I Tan: The Indoor Tanning Diaries").
Mixed in with these straightforwardly funny musings are oddball non-fiction articles -- such as his interview with "classic video game king" Todd Rogers and his expose of ApologetiX, a Christian Rock Parody Band -- and compelling prose pieces, like "Queries," which is a collection of actual comments Nester has made on his students' creative writing papers and "A.I. Wanna Rock 'n' Roll All Night," where Nester replaces Gene Simmons' responses during his famous Fresh Air with Terry Gross interview with comments written by "ALICE, an artificial intelligence chatbot."
But what really makes the book for me are when Nester defies expectations again, and showcases some incredibly personal and humanizing writing, such as the heart-breaking "Garden Path Paragraphs," where he speaks with brutal honesty about his and his wife's troubles conceiving their first child. Or "Goodbye to All Them," an unapologetic reflection on being a New York City poet who commits the cardinal sin of leaving New York City.
Daniel Nester doesn't hide anything, nor does he try to fit into any prescribed molds about what a book of collected non-fiction / autobiographical essays should be. Rather with "How to Be Inappropriate," he smashes those expectations, sets 'em on fire, and then stand over the smoldering ashes to play an extended solo on talk box guitar.
But (and I hope I don't turn off anyone who wants a funny book, because it IS funny) Daniel Nester's book is also quite moving. Several essays--my favorite is "The Difference Between Chickens and Goats"--explore in between times in the author's life, when he has finished one part of his life and is waiting for another to begin. They convey the poignancy of those moments, the lost feeling, the uneasiness of transition. This is a different kind of inappropriate--the feeling of being out of place, the sense that you are acting in ways that do not fit your context. And it is a different kind of funny, the in-retrospect kind you experience when you look back on a painful time in your life and recognize the humor of the human condition.
How to Be Inappropriate is a great humor book, but it is also great writing. It is ideal for anyone who appreciates the art of the personal essay.